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Exhibition Early Photography of the Middle East

From Persia and Arabia to North Africa: as early as the nineteenth century, there were Dutch people who used the camera themselves in various regions of the Middle East.

The exhibition 'Early Photography of the Middle East' highlights the life and work of three Dutch photographers: Alexine Tinne, Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje and Albert Hotz. The exhibition can be seen until 30 August in the south hall of the University Library.

Children in the East African village of Gondokoro (1862) (UBL-PKL-PK-F-2014)

Alexine Tinne: North Africa

A striking photo pioneer was the aristocratic Alexine Tinne (1835-1869) from The Hague. Her father had made a fortune through sugar production and trade and through an active role in slavery on the plantations he managed in what was then the West Indies. Alexine's contact with the Middle East started with a classic Voyage au Levant to Egypt and the 'Holy Land' of Palestine. On this trip she bought the earliest known photo album (1852) of Egypt and Palestine by the French photographer Maxime Du Camp and saw the British photo pioneer Francis Frith at work.

Tinne became famous for the extreme expeditions she undertook to the origins of the Nile, while she also managed to take technically successful photographs during these, very early on (1862). This was extremely rare, because you still had to mix the chemicals on site for the wet collodion process. A mobile darkroom had to be immediately available to develop and fix the glass negatives. Few were able to do it, but Tinne left behind a small oeuvre of special photos from these trips. Tinne continued to live and travel in the Maghreb until the end of her life, with a small group of friends of diverse skin color and cultural background, whom she called her 'new family'.

Abd al Ghaffar, associate of Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje and creator of some of the earliest photographs of the Hadj in Mecca, (Or. 26.404 26).

Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje: Arabia

Very early photos of Mecca, a city closed to non-Muslims, and the pilgrimage rituals around the holy Kaaba, come from the camera of Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje (1857-1936). He studied theology, Semitic languages and Arabic at Leiden University and obtained his doctorate in 1880 with his dissertation Het Mekkaansche feest (‘The Meccan Feast’). He converted to Islam not out of religious belief, but in order to gain the best possible understanding of Islamic culture and to be able to settle in Mecca. In 1885 he entered Mecca with a camera, where he started working with the local doctor ‘Abd al-Ghaffar, whom he taught to photograph.

While Snouck made portraits of various people he met inside a set-up photo studio, this doctor took all the outdoor shots because of the risks Snouck faced as a European. It resulted in important early photo books of Mecca: Bilder-Atlas, the photographic part 3 of Snouck's book series Mekka, and Bilder aus Mekka in which photography takes centre stage. Snouck's career then became more diplomatic, in the Dutch East Indies, before ending academically again in the Netherlands, at Leiden University.

Albert Hotz: Persia

From a very different background, that of international trade, a number of beautiful photo albums about Persia, now Iran, were created. Together with his father, the Rotterdam entrepreneur Albert Hotz (1855-1930) was involved in the establishment of the Persian Trade Association, while he was also temporarily acting consul general in Bushehr. Out of his interest in photography, he created a large collection of 15 albums and a total of hundreds of collected photos of the Middle East and Japan, by well-known photographers such as Sebah and the Bonfils brothers. In addition,

Hotz himself took a number of very special photos himself, during a trip through Iran and the Caucasus in 1890 and 1891. For this, he no longer had to mix chemicals on the spot, as Tinne did in 1862. The dry collodion process had made photography easier, although Hotz still had to transport wooden cameras and wooden boxes for the glass negatives. He had his 657 own photographs printed in London in the beautiful and durable platinum palladium print. While initially created to support his trade, Hotz's photo albums and collection are now also a wonderful photographic treasure and resource for researchers.

Albert Hotz, 'Peasants on their way to mountain pastures', Kazerun Persia, (HOTZ-ALBUM 1/65).

Digital Collections

Photos of Alexine Tinne, Christiaan Snouck Hurgronje and Albert Hotz are available online in Digital Collections. Digital Collections provides access to the digitised and digital born materials of Leiden University Libraries (UBL). Digital Collections has extensive functionality, such as full-text search, zoom function on the images and the possibility of downloading low-res images yourself. Searches can be filtered by type of material and can be refined. A link is also provided to the library catalogue and you can search in different collections simultaneously. Separate collection pages have also been created so that collections are easy to access individually. Durable links have been created for the digitised materials, making them suitable for references in websites and academic publications. All the digitised material is published under a CC-BY licence: the material can be used by everyone. UBL is continuously making new material available via Digital Collections.

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